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Tr i s ke l e BOOKS


Copyright © 2012 by Liza Perrat The moral rights of the author have been asserted. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the email address below. Cover design: JD Smith. Printed in the United Kingdom by Lightning Source. Published by Perrat Publishing. All enquiries to info@lizaperrat.com First printing, 2012. ISBN 978-2-9541681-0-4


To Jean-Yves Perrat, for believing in me


The people are like a man walking through a pond with water up to his chin. At the slightest dip in the ground, or the merest ripple, he loses his footing, sinks and suffocates. Old-fashioned charity and new-fangled humanity try to help him out, but the water is too high. Until the level falls and the pond finds an outlet, the wretched man can only snatch an occasional gulp of air and at every instant he runs the risk of drowning. The Origins of Contemporary France, Hippolyte Taine


Prologue July 1794

T

he early light burns Victoire’s cheeks, like a beacon warning her this summer day will bring something special. She hears the cries of the villagers long before she reaches the square of Lucie-sur-Vionne. ‘Robespierre is dead!’ Léon shouts, dancing about la place de l’Eglise with the others. ‘Guillotined! ‘They say the Parisians are frolicking on the streets,’ the baker cries. ‘For the death of that bloodthirsty dictator!’ ‘Cheering as when they guillotined fat Louis and his Austrian whore,’ a silk-weaver woman shouts. Victoire had not relished the Queen’s beheading. No matter how scornful; how wasteful with money, Marie Antoinette was but a scapegoat. Victoire believes we are all such victims, simply shuffling the hand of cards dealt at our birth. ‘Come and celebrate with us, Victoire.’ Léon takes her hand. ‘They’re saying this reign of terror is over.’ ‘Let’s hope we’ll have peace now,’ she says, looking away from him, at the coach rattling along the cobblestones of the square. ‘Far too much blood has stained our earth.’ Snagged in the revelry of the crowd, Victoire doesn’t pay much attention to the first two people who alight from the public coach, but then a young girl steps down. She is about fifteen years old, and her grey-green eyes remind


Spirit of Lost Angels

Victoire of the Vionne River in a storm. The girl gazes around the square, her ribboned curls, the colour and sheen of a fox, bobbing in crests and peaks. One of her hands folds over a pendant, hanging from a strip of leather about her neck. Victoire cannot move, or speak. She can only stand there, staring at the girl, terrified she is simply a wicked trick of her imagination — a spirit-like illusion she might have glimpsed that terrible day on riverbank. Her heart begins to beat wild, like the wings of a bat trapped in a hot attic. ‘No, surely not, it cannot be …?’ She falters, and stumbles towards the girl.

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Lucie-sur-Vionne 1768–1778


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P

ère Joffroy flung his arms about, his cassock swishing, as we settled on the benches, quietening the animals we’d brought for the priest to bless. ‘Sorcerers and sorceresses, wizards and witches, leave this church so may begin the Holy Sacrifice!’ Grégoire said some of the villagers thought our mother was a witch, but I didn’t believe my brother. How could anyone who helped babies get out of their mother’s belly be a witch? Besides, as well as birthing the babies, Maman was our healer-woman, which is a truly unwicked thing to be. I was still afraid though. My heart skipped and I held my breath, waiting to see if Maman would get up and walk out of the church, but nobody moved; not a single person left Saint Antoine’s. The fear faded. There were no wizards or witches at all in Lucie-sur-Vionne. Grégoire also said our mother was an angel-maker. I glanced across at Maman and felt all warm inside. How lucky I was to have a faiseuse d’anges mother. I hoped when I was grown up, Maman would teach me how to make angels too, like she was teaching me to read and write. Maman said if I was to succeed in this harsh world I must learn the letters, and I looked forward to the end of our day in the fields when she’d read from Les Fables de Jean de la Fontaine — exciting tales of snakes, dragons, princesses and treasure. I


Spirit of Lost Angels

dreamed of finding that glittery treasure for myself one day. She said now I was six, I was old enough to turn the pages, so gently — fearful of damaging them — I flipped over each page, staring at the words, which were like magic. I could never imagine being able to understand them. Mass went on too long and was mostly boring, but I didn’t mind being inside the church. I loved the rainbow of colours that danced on the walls in the sun, the smell of candlewax and the cool, flagstone floor. There were statues in each corner, with shiny golden curves, and colourful paintings hanging on the walls. The biggest one was of Jesus nailed to the cross, blood dribbling down his hands and feet where the nails were stuck in. There were others of naked women showing their bosoms, with cloth covering the part nobody is supposed to see. I jumped at the first crack of thunder, far away across the wheat and corn fields. From my spot in the last pew, I stretched my neck to look at the congregation before me. The farmers did not get up and run from the church, so this could not be a storm to worry about, even though the grey cloud made shadows behind the coloured windows. I twisted around and looked behind me, through the open door, as the first raindrops wet the cobblestones. I remembered I wasn’t supposed to move, and turned back towards the priest. I swung my legs and looked up at my favourite painting — a man with a long beard and brown robes. He held a stick with a bell on the end and a pig sat at his feet. ‘Saint Antoine, patron saint of our church, was a hermit monk who embodied all virtues,’ Père Joffroy once told me. ‘The pig represents his victory over the demon of gluttony.’ I did not know what the gluttony demon was, but it must be something as terrible as the speckled monster sickness that ate your face away, or blinded or killed you. Maman leaned across my twin brother and sister. ‘Pay attention, Victoire. Stop your dreaming.’ 12


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I wished I could still stand next to my mother in church and clutch the warm hand that used to hold mine before Félicité and Félix came. My father always stood at the end of us — my older brother, Grégoire, me, the twins, then Maman — watching to make sure we didn’t fidget, which was forbidden in church. Papa said each time we behaved badly in church we drove the nails of the cross deeper into Our Saviour’s flesh. I didn’t want that to happen so I looked back at Père Joffroy, whose voice still boomed from the pulpit. ‘We simple folk must rid ourselves of these superstitious notions: amulets, evil eyes, exorcisms at full moon. It is my duty to dispel such heathen beliefs that persist hundreds of years after the establishment of our Christian religion!’ Père Joffroy’s voice grew louder and he shook his fist. I never understood what our priest seemed angry about, but I lowered my eyes like everyone else and sat as still as a cat watching a mouse. Père Joffroy was blessing the sheep when the first lightning lit up the church like a thousand candles. Everyone jumped and glanced outside. The goats bleated, the cows mooed and the sheep baaed, their legs shivering. I turned again, looking through the doorway, beyond the village square. The rain was falling faster and the countryside looked like someone had drawn a grey sheet across it. Thunder cracked again, closer, louder, and the families began murmuring and wriggling. Some of the farmers slapped on their hats and ran from the church. Père Joffroy did not scold the farmers or the fidgeters even though he had not finished blessing the animals. Instead, the priest rushed from his pulpit and started ringing the bell. ‘We must pray as the holy church bell tolls,’ he said. ‘Your prayers will be heard more easily by God.’ I knew he would have to ring the bell long and hard to chase away the witches who were bringing the dark clouds, and to call on the angels to take the storm away. 13


Spirit of Lost Angels

Père Joffroy was supposed to fix everything that went wrong in our village, including storms. So why did the thunder still crack, the rain still fall in silvery curtains, as he clanged the bell over and over? The animals shook and made nervy noises, and as we knelt before the altar of the Blessed Virgin and asked for her protection against storms, sickness and poverty, I saw they’d all made stinky messes on the flagstones. My father tightened his grip on the rope holding our two sheep and hurried us all out of the church and into the rain. ‘We must run home, out of this storm,’ Papa said, dragging the sheep that kept bleating and trying to dart off the wrong way. Maman gathered the twins in the folds of her cloak. I took Grégoire’s hand and we dashed across the square of Lucie-surVionne. It was fun, skipping through the rain together, past the posthouse, the clog-maker, the blacksmith and the baker. I jumped into puddles around the gallows post and squealed as muddy water sprayed about, laughing as my hair slapped my cheeks. I lifted my face to the sky, closed my eyes and let the rain tickle my eyelids. The twins were giggling too, stumbling on their short legs, my mother half-dragging, half-carrying them beyond the old stone wall that, Papa said, defended Lucie from the plundering hordes. ‘Victoire!’ my father shouted. ‘Hurry.’ My eyes snapped open and I saw my parents were not laughing — they were frowning and shaking their heads at each new zigzag of lightning. All of us breathing fast, we scurried up the hill, past Monsieur Bruyère’s farmhouse, which sat on the ridge above the Vionne River. I covered my ears against the boom-boom of the anti-hail cannons Monsieur Bruyère was firing at the clouds, whose bellies seemed to sit right on his fields. By the time we slithered 14


Liza Perrat

down the slope to our cottage on the riverbank, the wind was shrieking, the rain coming down sideways from a sky as black as a moonless night. Everyone dripped water across the floor, quickly turning it to mud. Maman lit a candle and handed around bits of cloth for us to dry off. Papa pushed the sheep behind the partition, with the chickens. My father’s brow creased as he rushed outside, and back in again. ‘Mathilde, the oak’s on fire!’ he shouted at my mother. ‘The lightning must have struck it.’ His eyes grew as wild as the madwoman who lived in the woods — the witch they forbade us to approach. ‘We’ll get water from the river to put it out?’ Grégoire said. ‘Not a chance, my son,’ Papa said. ‘The flames have taken hold. We can only pray to God the fire dies out on its own.’ Maman gripped my father’s arm. ‘Let us all pray then, Emile.’ Our heads bent, we huddled together in silence. I knew fire was the most frightening thing of all; worse than the sickness that ate your face away, or the one that made you cough blood. Lightning fires had destroyed whole villages. Outside, the trees moaned as the wind whistled through the woods, but the rain had slowed. The twins were bored with the praying and scampered over to pet the sheep. My father frowned, and stroked his chin; my mother fiddled with her cap. Wood cracked, and splintered. Maman and Papa glanced at each other. ‘Leave the sheep, Félicité, Félix,’ Maman said. ‘Come here to me.’ I could tell she was worried but my little brother and sister didn’t listen to her, and kept tugging on the wool. A great roar and a rush of air made my ears pop, as the oak tree crashed through the roof, right on top of the sheep and chickens. 15


Spirit of Lost Angels

Maman screamed and threw herself at the fallen tree. ‘Run, children, go!’ Papa said. Through the noise and the mess, I tried to reach my mother. ‘Maman, Maman!’ I wanted to hold her hand but Papa was pushing me away. ‘Go!’ he said. ‘Go, now!’ Terrified, I stumbled outside with Grégoire. Flames spurted from the roof like great orange fingers reaching for the sky, and inside, my father was still shouting at Maman. ‘Mathilde, we must get out now!’ Papa staggered from the burning cottage, dragging Maman behind him. My mother’s head whipped around as she pulled against him. ‘No, let me go. The twins!’ She dug her nails into Papa’s arm. ‘My babies … must … save my babies!’ Papa pushed her to me but Maman was heavy, and we both fell to the ground. My father ran back inside. Grégoire was brave too, tearing in after Papa, even though smoke was puffing out of the doorway, and from the hole in the roof. ‘No, Grégoire, come back.’ Maman’s voice was faint against the whooshing flames. ‘Emile, are you all right? Have you got the twins?’ she kept saying. The villagers came running down the slope, shrieking against the noise of the fire — all talking at once so I couldn’t understand what any one of them was saying. ‘… fire start … lightning?’ ‘Is everyone out …?’ ‘Quick, get water … river!’ ‘The will of God … a terrible thing.’ I covered my ears, Père Joffroy’s voice roaring inside my head. ‘Water and fire — embrace those symbols of purification!’ I did not understand how we could embrace a thing that was destroying our home. Papa and Grégoire staggered outside, clutching their throats and gasping. My father lurched towards Maman, tears rolling 16


Liza Perrat

down his face. I had never seen him cry, and it frightened me. Papa was shaking his head and falling into Maman’s arms, but she couldn’t hold him up and he collapsed on the ground. The rain stopped. The storm was over, but it was hot, so burning hot that the villagers had to drag Papa further and further from the dragon fire that was feasting on our home. Very quickly, there was nothing left, only the fireplace standing in a mess of black wood, stones and branches. The ground was a carpet of twigs, leaves and small birds, their necks bent, their eyes wide open. I took my mother’s hand. It was floppy and cold. ‘Where’s Félicité? And Félix?’ Maman did not answer me, and her fingers closed around the talisman she wore on a strip of leather around her neck — a little bone angel carving.

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Spirit of Lost Angels Formatting Sample  

Spirit of Lost Angels Formatting Sample